SaliYah – “Sanctification”

SaliYah navigates queer self-discovery through different shades of electronica on Sanctification, out now on Growth in Decay.

Tommy Jammer is SaliYah, a 21-year-old trans artist based in Austin. The producer navigates themes of gender and race identity through different shades of electronica – in their short career, they’ve already dabbled in ambient, house, and art-pop. Their debut release, Sanctification, is an EP written and recorded throughout quarantine, when they were put on testosterone as part of their hormone replacement therapy. Making Sanctification, they say, was part of an intense process of acceptance, vulnerability and devotion to the self.

The music’s myriad experimental tones are a constant reminder of this process. A reflection of SaliYah’s own path of self-discovery, there is quite a lot of genre-hopping in this EP, from the techno-influenced “Connected” to the experimental, melody-less “Strength of The Sun”. Yet there is a common thread of melancholy and introspection running through it, both in the more song-based numbers (see the blue-toned dream pop of “Moon in Cancer”) and in the instrumental tracks – “Wicked” and its bittersweet synths splattering against an ambient background.

SaliYah is part of Growth in Decay, a US-based platform/label committed to distribute the work of independent electronica and experimental artists. One of many throwbacks to independent noughties electronica, Growth in Decay musicians share an interest in the physicality of their recordings. It’s a telling sign that they release all their records on cassette tape, a medium where the quality of the recording deteriorates slightly every time it’s played. SaliYah’s music explores this physicality not through Basinski-esque, complete deterioration but through what sounds like artificial vinyl crackle (“Moon in Cancer”) and through an exploration of distortion and its side effects (“Strength of the Sun”).

The best tracks on Sanctification are not exactly ambient, but they do take a few cues from the genre. The aforementioned “Strength of the Sun”, for instance, is a spoken-word track featuring no drums except for a few scattered sparks of synth distortion somehow resembling a manic rhythm pattern. It feels like SaliYah’s attempt to build a song out of static, a less cacophonous take on the noise electronica of the late 2000s mastered by Fuck Buttons among others.

However, SaliYah sticks to smoother tones for most of the EP. On “Wicked”, their voice is a gust of wind in a field recording, travelling through left and right ear channels over harp-like synthesizers that are an instant Vespertine call-back. On “Sleep”, 8-bit bip-bopping is combined with ominous drones, simulating the intrusive stream of thoughts of the insomniac. The music progressively resembles a dream; SaliYah’s voice, more and more modulated with every bar, ends up eclipsed by the engulfing drones by the song’s end.

The oneiric quality of their music is one of SaliYah’s biggest assets. If “Sleep” marks the beginning of Sanctification with the slow, progressive arrest of dormant trance, then closer “Moon In Cancer” is the gradual exit of this lethargic state. An outlier on the EP for its marked structure as a pop song, “Moon in Cancer” shows the artist at their most vulnerable, not singing but murmuring as if just woken up, their voice a whisper and a simple pledge: “Tell me if you want to / and I’ll be there / waiting up all night.”

Some might be taken aback by the disparate tones of electronica on Sanctification. However, that nonconformance is an integral part of the project, a neat mirroring of SaliYah’s process of self-recognition. Their navigation through different genres ends in a question mark or an ellipsis instead of a full stop – there is still space for SaliYah to traverse.

Stream Sanctification below and support the artist via Bandcamp.